An Alice in Wonderland Libya policy? 

I thought I was critical of the Obama administration’s Libya policy (policies?) in  my Wednesday Examiner column headlined “The damning contradictions of Obama’s attack on Libya.” But my criticisms were muted and pallid next to those of the normally sober Adam Garfinkle, editor of The American Interest, who writes that “the Obama administration has definitively gone down the rabbit hole.” Lest you miss the analogy, he explains, “Like Alice with her pills, some things are getting or will soon get bigger—risks, mission definition and casualty figures on the ground in Libya—while others are getting smaller—our reservoir of good options, our stock of common sense and our peace of mind. I do not invoke Lewis Carroll lightly. I do so in this case for a special reason: words we thought we all understood have now become encrusted with bizarre new meanings, or no meanings at all, as if our vocabulary has been hexed by Humpty Dumpty himself.” Scorcho! Time to get out your collected Orwell and reread his classic essay “Politics and the English Language.”

You get a similar message, with a lighter touch, from Michael Kinsley’s Los Angeles Times column on the subject. “Wait a minute,” he begins. “How did this happen?” Kinsley points up many of the problems with the administration’s approach and, uncharacteristically, concludes with an alternative policy of his own. “Was there nothing we could have done between sitting on our hands and launching something close to all-out war? Sure there was. We could've done what we did for Eastern Europe, which helped bring victory in the Cold War: verbal support and financial support for dissidents and democrats. Make clear which side we're on, but without overpromising. It sounds like the opposite of ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick,’ and in a way, it is. But it worked to defeat communism, and our track record with bigger ambitions in smaller situations has not been impressive.”

In the course of his diatribe on what he calls “this Libya caper” Adam Garfinkle makes an interesting point about Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whose warnings about the difficulties of establishing a no-fly zone have evidently been overruled by the president. “I wonder how Secretary Gates is feeling about all this?” Garfinkle asks. “In a way it doesn’t matter now; it seems to me that he has no choice but to resign.” Actually, Gates has already said publicly that he intends to leave office this year, and I gather that means at about mid-year. That means Barack Obama must nominate a new defense secretary who will then need to be confirmed by the Senate. It’s likely that Armed Services Committee hearings and floor debate will concentrate heavily on Libya. Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin has supported Barack Obama on Afghanistan but has continually pushed hard to get Afghan security forces to bear most of the burden there. Will he seek assurances that we will not make Libya another Afghanistan or Iraq? The committee’s ranking Republican John McCain urged that we take action on Libya three weeks ago when Gaddafi seemed to be on the run and when military action might have triggered his downfall. Now he says he hopes for a good outcome but fears it may not occur. He’s likely to press a Pentagon nominee hard for assurances that we will seek victory and not accept defeat. The administration briefed members of Congress on Libya on March 18, just hours before our military went into action on March 19. That cursory notification enabled them to get the Libya operation going without much complaint. But will they be able to keep it going when a nominee for defense secretary goes before the Senate? I have a feeling no one gave thought one to this problem.

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Michael Barone

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